Our full review of Assassin's Creed: Origins is yet to come, but Edwin has been exploring its world on our behalf and sends back this report.
I've only had time for a quick poke through the world of Assassin's Creed: Origins, thanks to a combination of Ancient Egypt-grade download speeds, short notice and a tortuous wrangle with graphics card drivers, but I'm already enjoying myself. This is something of a surprise, as I've become profoundly weary of the Ubiworld in recent years and Origins is very much an Ubiworld - a Pharoah's haul of bite-sized distractions and trinkets that may or may not add up into something genuinely compelling.
The game wastes no time filling your pockets. After around an hour, I'd amassed a couple of swords, an axe, three bows, a spare shield and a tidy amount of gold. I'd also levelled up four times and unlocked six or seven abilities, including a brace of sleeping darts and a chargeable guardbreak attack. If you're averse to this kind of unrelenting dripfeed, or to icon-stuffed HUDs, it seems unlikely Origins will win you over.
What might win you over is the view.
After the briefest of prologues - in which player character Bayek finds his way through a colossal temple and chops down a large man in a hat with whom he apparently has beef – you're kicked out into a gorgeous if extremely Hollywood recreation of the Egyptian lowlands in the time of Ptolemy XIII. The landscape is a quietly stupefying play of wind-sculpted sand, bleached stone and vegetation, sweeping down from rock outcrops to crowded roads and farmlands thick with palms. It's a world of delicate details, like irrigation streams winding around hilltop houses, and familiar Ubisoft tactical props, like cages of people who need rescuing.
Verticality is the obvious casualty – there are few clusters of tall buildings, and so far, no old-school Assassin's Creed synchronisation viewpoints. Right now, though, I don't miss all that, and besides, I'm sure there will be plenty of architecture to abuse in more built-up regions like the great city of Alexandria at the north of the map. If you're really hankering for some height, you can always enter the body of your pet eagle, Senu, and soak up the geography while marking objectives.
I've yet to warm to the combat, however, which trades the tightly-meshed, somewhat constrictive feel of older Assassin's Creeds for what is being described as a “hitbox system”, which puts less emphasis on locking on, and pushes you a little harder to gauge when you're in striking distance and keep every attacker on screen. It's too early to draw hard conclusions but this approach seems less elegant – you're more prone to missing attacks and being blindsided - but possibly more flexible with practice, as it's easier to disengage from a target and slide through a mob. Area-clearing tactics run the usual gamut of sneaking through tall grass to clobber investigating guards, chasing down craven souls who are trying to raise the alarm and, when rumbled, attempting to quash elites who require more attention while fending off smaller fry who can generally be mashed to death.
I suspect I'll cool on Origins in the long run, unless there's something transformative further down the road – it feels like the expected, annual aggregation of all current Ubisoft wisdom about open worlds, applied to a new period and landscape. Still, it has yet to put a foot fully wrong, and after the murk of Syndicate's London the light and space of Ancient Egypt is a tonic. Watch out for my final thoughts next week.